Banks taken to task on pensions

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BANKS and building societies are lagging behind in the value- for-money stakes when it comes to personal pensions, according to a leading independent financial adviser.

Ian McKenna, at Blyth McKenna in London, says the banks in particular are not passing on the cost savings of having an established branch network and customer base.

According to figures produced by Blyth McKenna, most of the banks are in the bottom half of the league table for their projected fund values, which points to their charges being higher than the competition.

The extra charges that some bank customers may pay for their retirement plans could have a marked effect on the value of their pension funds when they stop working.

All pension providers are obliged to produce quotations on the future value of a pension fund based on assumed growth rates of 6, 9 and 12 per cent over the term of the pension plan.

An independent financial adviser is obliged to search around the market to find the pension that offers the best deal for the customer, and is not attached to any one company. However, someone buying a pension from his or her bank will usually only be given quotations for the bank's products by a sales agent tied to the company.

The illustrations of the future value of a pension fund may vary considerably from one company to another, and it is the charges levied by the pension company - both at the beginning of the plan and throughout its term - that cause this.

Black Horse Life, the insurance arm of Lloyds Bank, would expect to build up a pot of £38,010 after charges on a £50-a-month contribution to a personal pension over a 25-year term, assuming the fund went up by 9 per cent a year. The same investment with Scottish Life, the Edinburgh-based life insurance and pensions specialist, would build up a fund of £42,262 after costs had been deducted, a difference of more than £4,000.

The final value of the pension pot is vital in deciding how much a retired person's annual pension, and any lump sum payment taken, will be.

Mr McKenna believes the banks should cut charges and give customers a better deal.

He said: "The banks have a captive audience to sell pensions to and an established branch network, which should mean they have far lower distribution costs. They should be offering good value for money, but all the indications are that they're not passing the cost savings on to customers."

Mr Malcolm Oliver, marketing director at Barclays Life, rejects claims that his company levies high charges on personal pension customers and says commission payments in particular are low.

He said: "The commission we pay to advisers is 120 per cent of the recommended Lautro rates, compared to the 130 per cent normally charged by IFAs and up to 180 per cent by the direct sellers. I do not think Barclays Life or the banks in general are uncompetitive, and this is borne out by these figures."

Mr Oliver said Barclays' 250,000 pension customers looked at factors other than the costs. "There is more to the equation than charges. Customers want to look at performance figures and annuity rates, as well as wanting to feel comfortable with the company."

Blyth McKenna pension analyser

Monthly Contribution: £50, term: 25 years, growth: 9 per cent.

The Leaders £

Scottish Life* 46,084

Equitable Life 45,131

National Mutual* 44,418

Provident Life* 44,361

Scottish Amicable* 44,285

NPI Standards Funds* 43,527

Norwich Union* 43,111

Scottish Life*** 42,262

Leeds Life 41,740

National Mutual 40,954

NPI** 40,526

Scottish Amicable*** 40,326

Norwich Union 39,228

The Banks

Barclay's Life 40,612

Abbey National Standard Funds 40,280

Midland Life 39,405

National Westminster Life 38,489

Black Horse Life 38,010

The Laggards

Prudential 35,806

Sun Life of Canada 35,718

Providence Capitol 1.5% Amc Funds 34,219

Windsor 1.5% Amc Funds 31,728

Combined Life Perpetual High Funds 27,420

* nil commission, ** standard commission, *** full commission